I once had a mentor whose grounding principle was "How you do one thing is how you do everything." When I heard it, it kind of landed. Not fully. Truthfully, I wrote it off to "personal development speak" and put it in my back pocket. But...I started to pay attention to where this might be true. I noticed how I addressed things (straight on or "avoidantly"), how I was with my time integrity, how I followed through on things, how I engaged with conflict, and how this rippled into every other area of my life. Years later, after coaching hundreds of private clients and teaching thousands, I can see this to be absolutely true -- maybe not the exact wording of it or 100% of the time -- but the absolute ramifications of it and the gift in paying attention to it for ourselves and those we lead.
For example, the person who says they'll get back to you by the end of the day, but doesn't. And then doesn't acknowledge the broken agreement, will do that again and again. If you hire them or count on them, it's on you. They've shown you.
The person who does not respond to texts, emails, or phone calls in a considerate or timely way, or blows you off all together, will likely do so moving forward. If you hire them or count on them or expect anything different, it's on you.
The person who gossips to you about someone else, breaks confidentiality, or complains that everything is "their" fault, will do it to you later. If you don't call it out or address it directly, or keep participating in that dynamic, it's on you.
The person who shows up late to your meeting, especially with no ownership or accountability, will show up late to others. If you let it go... on you.
You get the idea here.
I'm not saying another person's behavior is "on you" --
I'm saying you get what you tolerate.
Fortunately it works the other way too...
The person who tells you the truth with absolute candor (and care), even when you don't want to hear it, will be a person you want in your corner moving forward and whose feedback you can count on.
The person who breaks an agreement for time, follow up, or confidentiality, acknowledges the broken agreement (not excusing, but rather acknowledging and taking accountability), and promises immediate improvement or a solution, will be a person you can lean into. (Assuming they follow through on the new agreement.)
I've learned over the years -- being on both sides of this -- that when something like this happens, I'm not so concerned with the actual event that happens (depending on circumstance) as I am with seeing how it's handled and accounted for. Is it spoken to and acknowledged? Or totally blown off as if you won't notice?
The thing is, even if we're not consciously aware of this, our subconscious is making calculations on whether or not we can trust or count on someone all the time. Speaking to a "miss" or a "fail" and accounting for it creates trust.
Here are three examples that stand out for me personally, two of them fresh, the other stained in my brain.
This last week, I told a client I'd have something to them the next day. I made this agreement as I watched my daughter's volleyball tournament (#momfail) surrounded my yelling parents, and without checking my schedule and bandwidth for the coming 24 hours. As I said I'd send it, I felt contraction in my system and that little voice of "whoa, hold on." However, in my excitement and desire to collaborate, I overrode it. (#leadershipfail)
The next day there was NO way I was going to get that to her in the best shape possible. My schedule was full and so was my brain space time -- which this issue deserved. So I sent her a note, "I apologize, I made an agreement that I was not present in making, I'd like to get this to you first thing tomorrow when I'm fresh so it's at its best and I can think through your situation full-heartedly and properly. If you need need it today, I will honor my agreement however, I'd feel better if we can give it a night. Can that work?" No problem. I made her thing top priority the next morning and submitted something I could stand fully behind.
When you break an agreement: acknowledge it, honor it, make it right.
Years and years ago, in the process of hiring a full-time employee, at the final stage of the interview process, my applicant turned in one of the pre-assignments (designed to ensure that this job would be a fit) one day late with no communication or ownership that it was late or explanation as to why. In my desire to get someone in that role and with all my sunk cost in the hiring process, I hired them anyway.
I quickly learned that that was how they rolled, late work (with excuses and defense when addressed) was a theme. As we got further into our engagement, it got worse. I got to the point where I dreaded asking for things because I didn't want to be let down and have the stress of the confrontation of accountability. So then I started doing the things myself. (No no no no no...wrong way wrong way!!) Ultimately, we parted ways.
How they did things at the beginning was late work product without accountability.
How I did things at the beginning was not calling it out or holding accountability.
Our "how we do one thing is how we do everything" followed us through the relationship.
Now... whose "fault" was all of this? Not their's (their work ethic is on them). The situation was on me. I saw an issue at the beginning. They showed me how they operated. I had that quiet sense. (BTW, if you notice something and it feels off, there is a reason you are noticing it -- call it out.)
Had I called it out directly and honored that intuition, I would have seen how they handled accountability and I would not have made that hire. Or, possibly (doubtedly) we would have had a clean-up discussion and designed powerful agreements about expectations moving forward. But I didn't do that. So my hire, and then not holding effective accountability and tolerating behavior that did not work for the company, was my fail.
Fortunately, the gift of failing in leadership is more wisdom and
CEUs in your PhD of Leadership & What Not to Do.
I likely do not have to tell you how expensive this situation was from a financial, energetic (physically, mentally, and emotionally), lost time, and new find perspective.
It was also one of the greatest leadership lessons I've ever had. It gifted me with a feeling in my body of "knowingness" in that realm (good God, so many realms) that serves me to this day.
Case in point...
Last week I was this <> close to hiring someone to help me with something. I was really excited about it. I was ready to go. They told me they'd get back to me with something within 24 hours with some answers and we'd talk live. Forty-eight hours later, they followed through without acknowledging their broken agreement, partial answers, one big answer showing me they weren't present to the situation (or were so busy they didn't have the bandwidth to remember it). Despite having things lined up and ready to go, I chose not to hire. It's a bummer too. Because I really liked them and truthfully, I really needed them. BUT... my gut said NO. And with a PhD in Gut Trusting, I now trust my gut on these things (more quickly).
How we humans do one thing, is a pretty great sign of how we do everything. Fortunately, none of us are doomed if we're not showing up as we wish. We can change it in a moment. If you are doing something that's ineffective or poor leadership, change it. If you see something in a potential hire (or boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, team member, etc.) that feels off -- NAME IT. Engage. See what unfolds. Use your discernment and do the harder thing.
Awareness, accountability, and action are the way forward.